Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 15, 2015
Just as the expressions almighty dollar and holy moley exist, Idiomation wondered if anyone had ever used the expression holey dollar. As luck would have it, such an expression existed although it’s never transitioned into idiomatic language. Still, the history of the term is intriguing, and who knows? Maybe someday, holey dollar will find its rightful place in the English language!
Here’s the scoop on the holey dollar.
In 1812, Prince Edward Island (Canada) found itself with a severe currency shortage. To resolve the situation, the Governor decided to have all the Spanish dollars gathered, and to have the centers punched out to create two coins. Since the Spanish dollar was in constant circulation in Eastern Canada and the United States, this solution to the currency problem made sense to the Governor, and it became the official currency of Prince Edward Island.
The smaller coin was known as the Dump, and was worth 15 pence. The outer rim was known as the Holey dollar, and was worth 5 shillings.
The term (and the practice) was also adopted in New South Wales a year later, and was one of the first coins said to be struck in Australia. In the case of New South Wales, the government accepted shipment of $40,000 Spanish dollars which was delivered by the HSM Samarang. The governor of New South Wales had convicted forger, William Henshall cut the centers out of the coins and counterstamp them (which took over a year to complete).
Like in Canada, the smaller coin was known as the Dump, and was worth 15 pence. The outer rim was known as the Holey dollar, and was worth 5 shillings.
You’re probably thinking this is all made up and an early April Fool’s joke, but it’s not! This is historically accurate information here.
In May 1903, there was a magazine published titled, “Old Times: An Unique Illustrated History of the Early Days” wherein general reminiscences of early colonists were published. In one such instance, the following was found in one such reminiscence.
We tossed up as to who should pay for the drinks, and when the coin reached the ground it knocked three dumps out of the dust. At that time the chief coin in circulation was the Spanish dollar, or Holey dollar. The dollar had a value of five shillings, and with a view of increasing the currency the bead or dump was cut out, which then had a value of 1s, 3d., while the ring retained its old value of five shillings, thus giving a total value of 6s, 3d. for each Spanish dollar.
Sadly enough, the holey dollar didn’t have much staying power in either Prince Edward Island or New South Wales and just a few years later, the holey dollar was called back in and discontinued as accepted currency.
You might be thinking to yourself that Idiomation is stretching the truth with that last statement. That’s historically accurate information as well.
The following was reported in the “Australian Dictionary of Dates and Men of the Time Containing the History of Australia from 1542 to May 1879” by John Henniker Heaton and published in May 1879. In the chapter on currency, the following was included:
Gazette notice appeared, officially prohibiting the further use of the holey dollar and the dump, a large amount of British coin having been received, and put in circulation, August 15, 1829.
Now for those readers who are interested in knowing more about the Spanish dollar, it was known in Spain as the peso of eight reales, or the piece of eight. The concept of the peso of eight reales was still part of our commerce up until April 9, 2001 when the Securities and Exchange Commission ordered all American stock markets to report prices and stocks using the decimal system. Up until that date, prices and trades were reported in fractions of eight as a result of the peso of eight reales.
Because the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) was established over 200 years ago, trades were based on base-eight dominations thanks to the peso of eight reales. Each fraction was worth 12.5 cents and that became known as the spread (the smallest amount a stock could change in value). Before the system was discontinued in favor of the decimal system, the smallest fraction permitted was one-sixteenth, or 6.25 cents.
Knowing this, doesn’t it make you wonder if there’s another tie in with those low-priced, small-cap stocks known as penny stocks?
It also might make some wonder if this wasn’t the concept upon which the Canadian loonies and toonies were based.
And doesn’t it make you wonder why the almighty dollar caught on but the holey dollar hasn’t caught on yet?